From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 11 – The complications that arise when we tell the truth, and a look at some exceptional situations where we could lie
The more you love the truth, the more of a problem this issue of scruples can become. The essence of the problem is that you have a heart which is currently more honest than your head is wise. That has been my problem on many occasions. God has put me into many situations as a police officer, and then as a solicitor and supervisor of other solicitors, where my integrity was more advanced than my wisdom.
There is a mismatch, like where one muscle is bigger than its counterpart. You know you have to be totally honest, and you have committed yourself to be so. But you aren’t yet sufficiently mature, wise or discerning to know how to achieve this without getting into excruciatingly tight corners, of the kind that the prophet Daniel would have been able to see coming and avoid.
“Be not righteous over much” – the day when I was corrected by Inspector Bell
When I was in my first year as a police officer I struggled with knowing how to be a Christian in an overwhelmingly non-Christian workplace. Sometimes I behaved too rigidly and legalistically. I was so afraid of doing something dishonest that I didn’t allow myself to go anywhere near doing so. That meant I was sometimes overly strict and inflexible with myself, in ways that a wiser person would have avoided. For example, on one occasion I just needed to photocopy one sheet of paper for private use but I felt unable to use the photocopier at the police station. Therefore, when the shift ended, I walked all the way into town to copy it at the post office instead.
On reflection, I don’t think I needed to be quite as rigid as I was. I could have just asked and used the Police Station photocopier. That would not have been wrong for just one sheet, if permission was given. But I didn’t feel at the time that even the Inspector could validly give me such permission, given that it wasn’t his own paper or copier. I would be less rigid today and would accept that an Inspector had got the authority to permit me to do something like that.
That was the sort of stance I took on that and various other issues. One day a senior officer called Inspector Bell corrected me. He wasn’t on my shift and so I only knew him at a distance. I assumed that I knew more than him about the Bible and that he wouldn’t understand the issues I was facing. However, one day some ethical situation arose and he took me completely by surprise when he suddenly quoted the Bible to me, from the book of Ecclesiastes. He said:
“Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?”Ecclesiastes 7:16 (KJV)
It was a word in season for me. His quoting of that verse helped me to realise that even in things such as honesty, truth and righteousness, it is possible to ‘go over the top’ and to become unbalanced and unwise.